Highlights From Ontario’s 2018 Fall Economic Statement

Provincial Finance Minister Vic Fedeli set the stage for an austerity budget next spring with an interim financial statement that, as promised, begins to address the deficit while putting more money in the pockets of Ontarians.

Starting the road back to balance will not be easy. Fedeli said: “Everyone across the province will be required to make sacrifices, without exception.”

On the upside, he said the government has achieved $3.2 billion in savings to date and generated $2.7 billion in tax cuts for Ontario families and individuals, reducing the budget deficit by $500 million to $14.5 billion. No timeline was given to balance the budget.

Here’s our key takeaways from the Ford government’s first Fall Economic Statement:

1. Rent Control – In a move to spur construction and improve rental capacity, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area, all new buildings will no longer have rent control. Current controls will be maintained for existing rental units.

2. Northern Ontario – The government will work directly with First Nations partners to develop Ring of Fire resources in northern Ontario. The government will also make use of private-public partnerships to extend natural gas and broadband networks for remote Northern communities.

3. Health care – The health sector will see an investment in 6,000 new long-term care beds, with 9,000 new beds “in the pipeline,” and $90 million in spending to add 1,100 new beds in hospitals during flu season. As well, Fedeli restated the previous commitment to spend $1.9 billon over 10 years on mental health.

4. Income Tax – Introducing “LIFT” — the Low-Income Individuals and Families Tax Credit. Most low income earners making less than $30,000 per year will pay no income tax.

5. Open for Business – Red tape affecting Ontario’s small businesses will be cut by 25 per cent by 2020, taxes on small business will see a reduction, and a promise was made that other actions are on the way to ensure Ontario is open for business.

6. Three Officers Are Out – Three provincial legislative officers have been eliminated – the Environmental Commissioner, the Child and Youth Advocate and French Language Services Commissioner. But, Fedeli stressed early in the statement that the scope and mandate of Ontario’s Auditor General and Ombudsman are set to expand.

7. Pipelines – Ontario will also unilaterally relinquish veto over oil transport and new pipeline construction within the province’s borders. Ontario will “lead by example to further national interests” and get pipelines built.

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Critical gains for women could be lost if Doug Ford wins election in Ontario

The column originally appeared in The Toronto Star on June 3, 2018

In a few short days, Ontario voters will head to the polls to elect our next government.

This has been an election for the history books, and there is a great deal at stake.

In the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp, all across the province we’ve seen an influx of young women entering the political arena. These women have bravely put their names on ballots, knocked on thousands of doors, and brought fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to the political discourse.

I’ve met many extraordinary women on the campaign trail, dedicating their time and energy to impacting the outcome of the upcoming election — many of them for the first time. Feminists who care deeply for our communities, working tirelessly together to ensure the next government continues to build on and protect the gains seen under the leadership of Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Wynne proactively planned, prioritized and moved the dial on issues uniquely impacting women.

She partnered with researchers and front-line workers providing supports for victims of gender-based violence in a sincere effort to ensure the government was providing sufficient support.

Her focus resulted in much-needed increases to sexual assault crisis centre budgets as they struggle to meet local demands for services, more safe beds for women and families in need of transitional housing as they take the necessary steps to rebuild their lives following abuse, and improvements to supports in rural communities while addressing a need for culturally appropriate and safe services.

She met with student leaders to support their work on campuses across the province, creating funded sexual violence prevention and support strategies. While there is no way to measure the exact impact of her #WhoWillYouHelp and #ItsNeverOk campaigns, we can be certain that they contributed to sparking much-needed conversations across industries about the role we each play in shifting a toxic culture and providing better supports to victims of gender-based violence.

She empowered her caucus and cabinet to identify how each of their portfolios and initiatives could contribute to her women’s economic empowerment and gender-based violence prevention agenda. Stemming from this, her team piloted and expanded free legal advice for survivors of sexual assault, made great strides toward addressing the ever-persistent gender pay gap with legislation that came into effect this past April, and set mandatory targets to ensure more women have a seat at the table through provincial board and agency appointments.

Her record on measures put in place to combat a culture of harassment and violence against women is unprecedented. These are all important steps forward, and there is much more work ahead.

We don’t know exactly what Doug Ford intends to do if elected as premier, as he’s chosen not to produce a fully costed platform. However, from the commitments made on his website we can see that he intends to take the province backward on many of these gains.

We know he has promised to turn back the clock on the modernized sexual education curriculum, which includes a critical focus on consent and healthy relationships. He has further committed to rolling back legislation passed with the aim to ensure women are able to access abortion services without facing harassment.

I’m extraordinarily proud of the work accomplished under Wynne’s leadership. She has led with a refusal to settle for the status quo with a transparent, visionary and activist government. We can’t afford to go backward.

We often get caught up searching for “the real thing” in politics. We want the Jed Bartlet of political leaders — authentic, charismatic, principled, brilliant and witty.

The truth is, there is no perfect candidate. Political leaders are regular people, like you and me, striving for better in both themselves and their communities.

I place political leaders into two categories — those who believe themselves to be dignitaries wielding power, and those who prove themselves as functionaries for progressive change.

Wynne has proven herself to be a true functionary in Canadian politics.

Despite her best efforts, Ontarians have made it clear that they want change.

Come Thursday, I hope Ontario will elect a government committed to building on her legacy rather than looking for ways to repeal her hard-fought work in support of the women of this great province.

Humility, empathy are key to Ontario Liberals’ rebuild

This column originally appeared in The Toronto Star on June 17, 2018

The results of the provincial election delivered a devastating blow to the Ontario Liberal Party. This week, the remaining members of caucus met and unanimously endorsed John Fraser as interim leader as the party embarks on its rebuilding process.

After 15 years spent sensibly building the province of Ontario, the Ontario Liberal Party now enters a chapter of deep self-reflection in preparation for the way forward.

This is a process I hope the party takes its time with, carefully and inclusively.

While Premier Doug Ford goes about dismantling some of the proudest accomplishments of our previous governments, the Liberal caucus will have to work alongside its progressive colleagues in the legislature to hold Ford accountable to the needs of every Ontarian.

It will be important to cut through the distractions, observe carefully and remain critical of each decision made by this new government.

In Kathleen Wynne’s emotional and captivating speech on election night, one line stood out as she spoke of the party’s leadership transition: “There is another generation and I am passing the torch to that generation.”

That generation has waited patiently for the torch. Premier Dalton McGuinty would consistently remind young liberals that they carried an important function in the party — of rocking the boat without tipping it over.

Well, we capsized. And today the youthful voice of the Ontario Liberal Party has an opportunity to share an equal part in modernizing the ship.

There is no need to rush into the formal leadership process. There are intergenerational and regional dialogues that should take place first, in order to connect, share and align a variety of visions as we embark on this new chapter.

Who are Liberals? Builders. Forward thinkers. Fairness seekers. A family of political organizers and supporters who believe better is always possible and who set out to improve our province through the system.

There is a quote by Les Giblin I’ve used to guide my approach to political organization that says: “You can’t make the other fellow feel important in your presence if secretly you feel they are a nobody.”

With that in mind, I hope those who enter the permanent leadership race bring a key quality to the table: humility, with an ability to empathize with Ontarians from all walks of life.

We have a great many relationships to heal and cultivate. Each Liberal ambassador, and the leader especially, will need to undertake this process humbly to earn back the trust of the electorate.

I remember the first time I voted Liberal. At 18 years old, my mother reminded me it was a secret ballot and refused to share her decision so I could independently come to my own.

She encouraged me to look at the values of each party and the track record for delivering on their promises. She made sure I researched the local candidates and understood the role they played in advocating for our community’s needs.

Over the years, and especially during this most recent election, there have been moments when I disagreed with decisions and directions being set by the Liberal party. But that is the beauty of political discourse — the avenues in place to fight for our beliefs while shaping the way forward.

Our leaders can’t be afraid to innovate, while cultivating a culture of inclusivity and respect for the ideas brought forward by our wide range of supporters. Further, they must work diligently to address the issues facing us today with a steady eye on the challenges of the future.

Ontario has elected a government aiming to turn back the clock on climate change initiatives while offering no plans to address the local economic impacts brought by automation and rapidly changing technologies.

In four years’ time, more than ever, Ontario will require a government willing to tackle our biggest challenges with balanced, creative and cutting-edge approaches.

With his grassroots organizing experience, Fraser is an excellent choice for a difficult role, and it’s a difficult task that lies ahead of him as interim leader. But he doesn’t stand alone.

In the coming months and years, over the course of the rebuild, the voice and future of the Ontario Liberal Party will be heard and felt from all corners of the province.

Jim Bradley got caught in political tide

This column originally appeared in Niagara This Week on June 9, 2018

A political tide is a powerful force, and quite often there is little that can be done to combat it.

Such is the fate of Jim Bradley, the long-serving and much-accomplished former MPP of St. Catharines.

In many ways, Bradley’s defeat on Thursday night is tragic. Obviously not in a life-or-death kind of way, but he was on the cusp of history.

He fell just two days short of reaching 41 years at Queen’s Park — first elected on June 9, 1977, and holding the seat until his defeat on June 7, 2018, winning 11 straight elections.

Come next summer, Bradley would have surpassed Harry Nixon to become Ontario’s longest-serving MPP.

He will have to settle for second place, but that will not be Bradley’s legacy. Not at all. His legacy will be that of an avid local sports fan and unabashed booster of St. Catharines, a tireless environment minister and a hound dog on the opposition benches. He will be remembered as a community- and consensus-builder.

As for the latter, when you have been around as long as Bradley, you have no choice but to be so. Consider that he served under seven different Liberal Party leaders (and even served a stint himself as interim leader between David Peterson and Lyn McLeod), six St. Catharines MPs and six St. Catharines mayors.

Think about how many ribbon-cutting photos that is, all with a rotating cast of characters standing around Bradley, and about how many high school graduations, anniversary parties and 100th-birthday parties he has attended.

With such a track record, it is worth considering what happened in St. Catharines Thursday night that brought Bradley his first electoral loss since 1971. In a word, it comes down to momentum. Across the province, the PCs and NDP had it, and the Liberals did not.

Bradley had withstood such tides before, particularly the 1990 campaign that saw the NDP sweep to power. But never had the party around him been so reviled by the electorate. The force this time was just too much, his party reduced to a historic-low seven seats.

It had long been accepted in local political circles that a good chunk of Bradley supporters voted for him because he was Bradley, not because he was a Liberal. This time, apparently, they couldn’t get past the colour of his lawn signs.

Consider that from the 2014 election to this one, Bradley’s vote count dropped by nearly 6,400; the 12,671 ballots counted for Bradley was his lowest total since he narrowly won the 1990 election. Conversely, incoming NDP MPP Jennie Stevens upped her vote count by more than 7,500 over her 2014 result. She took what Bradley lost, and then some.

Interestingly, the PC tally also went up by some 3,500 votes. It is safe to assume there was a motivated Conservative base in the city that sensed Bradley was vulnerable, but that small surge was not enough to overcome the progressives who took up camp with the NDP.

This election also engaged more St. Catharines voters than we have seen in recent history, with 59 per cent of eligible voters turning out to vote. There were 51,650 ballots cast in the city on Thursday night, an 11-per-cent increase over the turnout four years ago and well more than in any previous Bradley election (the previous high being 47,059 who voted in 1999).

Higher voter turnout and a collapsing Liberal vote was a trend that carried across the Niagara Peninsula — with a relatively healthy 58 per cent voter turnout — just without the shocking defeat of a political heavyweight as a casualty.

In the four Niagara ridings, the total Liberal vote dropped by 22,385 tallies. In part, the redrawn riding boundaries had a role to play. Niagara West Liberal Joe Kanee only won 4,933 votes, a drop of more than 10,000 over 2014. But in 2014 Niagara West also had the Glanbrook area of Hamilton attached to it, and it provided much of the Liberal vote in that election.

Nevertheless, the Liberals lost significant votes and finished in third in every Niagara riding, where the NDP and PCs increased their vote total. There is an interesting aside here in Niagara Centre, nicely illustrating how much of an NDP stronghold the riding is.

Jeff Burch successfully kept the seat orange, winning 292 more votes than his predecessor Cindy Forster did in 2014. The PC vote in the riding surged by 5,400, but candidate April Jeffs still finished nearly 3,300 voted behind Burch.

With Bradley gone, Niagara’s political landscape is quite different. The four-and-a-half years NDP Wayne Gates has served as MPP in Niagara Falls now makes him the dean of the Niagara caucus, and young PC Sam Oosterhoff — all 20 years of him — is the second-longest serving.

And for St. Catharines Liberals, they are suddenly thrust onto a job they haven’t had to do in a couple of generations — looking for a candidate.

OPINION: New government needs to block drug dealers from social housing

This column originally appeared in The Toronto Sun on May 24, 2018

Nothing has been done.

More than a year after Toronto council voted unanimously for the Kathleen Wynne government to change provincial legislation to help keep drug dealers out of social housing, they’re still in there.

That’s right. Council voted unanimously – and when does that ever happen? — in support of Mayor John Tory’s push to get dealers out of our taxpayer-supported housing and keep them out.

It isn’t hard to see that something should be done. Under existing provincial legislation, a drug dealer can be evicted from social housing – an unnecessarily lengthy and complicated procedure, but it can be done. Here’s the catch: Once they’re kicked out, they can immediately apply to be readmitted, and landlords can’t discriminate against them. So says the Housing Services Act.

Tory has correctly said: “Right now we have no discretion but to say, ‘Come on back.’”

It gets worse. Dealers who don’t live in social housing buildings can walk in and out a dozen times a night to visit customers. In most provinces, the landlord could ban these criminals. But under Ontario’s Trespass to Property Act, if these people are ‘buzzed in’ by a tenant, then they are considered visitors and have free access. Even if they are going in and out multiple times a night to different apartments for five minutes at a time. They are still ‘visitors.’

Tell me that can’t be changed.

The lives of vulnerable tenants are at stake. When I served as secretary of the Mayor’s Task Force on Toronto Community Housing in 2015, our chair and I visited more than 70 TCHC buildings. Many were in great shape. In some, though – and any is too many — I saw crime-ridden wrecks under siege by drug dealers and their runners.

When I went to one complex off Eglinton Ave. in Scarborough, the tenants told me “during the day, Toronto Housing runs this place. But after 5, the dealers are in charge.” The residents lived in fear – and, tragically, their fears were justified. On April 21, a man was stabbed to death. The police described the deceased as “an intended victim.” Almost certainly drug-related.

What’s most frustrating is that this can be fixed.

What I saw going on in another building in East York was shocking. After dark, we hid in bushes opposite the front entrance. A runner stood in the front lobby buzzing in visitor after visitor. One young fellow pulled up in a BMW and got out clutching a fat wad of bills. He went inside and emerged about five minutes later. He was proudly flaunting the money he was taking from low-income victims. A sickeningly callous display.

That guy can be stopped.

The people in that complex have paid a terrible price. Two people were shot last July. A man was fatally stabbed Oct. 28.

Some would argue that these drug dealers have rights – to live where they want and come and go where they please. But the 120,000 people who live in TCHC have the right to live in a safe and secure home. Barring criminals from subsidized housing is tough justice, and so it should be.

Kathleen Wynne’s Housing Minister Chris Ballard was questioned about this in the legislature, and said, “Eviction, for these people, really means nowhere for these folks to go.” But why should people be allowed to operate profitable criminal enterprises in buildings owned by the people of Toronto?

If the polls are to be believed, it’s largely irrelevant what the Ontario Liberals think about this issue now. They had years to act and did nothing.

But will a new Doug Ford or Andrea Horwath government step up to try to protect the people living in social housing? A motion went before the Ontario PC policy conference Nov. 25 stating that anyone who is evicted from social housing for serious criminal activity should be permanently barred. It passed with a vote 90% in favour.

I’ll be thinking about this as I cast my vote June 7. Who is most likely to step up for low-income people under siege from the heartless criminals who victimize them?

Advertising spending limits mean a lot less today

This column originally appeared in National Newswatch on May 16, 2018

We live in an age where it’s almost impossible to define advertising. It’s hard to distinguish between a Facebook ad that reaches voters, or a Facebook post that people share widely of their own free will. It’s not like the good old days where ads were confined to a commercial break.

With the right content, a crack digital campaign team could take a modest budget and make an incredible impact for a decent candidate running for office without spending a penny on traditional TV or radio ads. By helping seed great online content with a small paid spend, a good campaign can prime the pump in terms of having viral posts that ultimately get shared for free.

It’s hard to imagine a celebrity like our Prime Minister, with his massive online following, not having an advantage when it comes to reaching people this way. His nearly six million Facebook fans dwarfs the 160,000 who follow Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

The federal Liberals, through Bill C-76, have introduced legislation that limits advertising spending to $1.5 million in the pre-election period starting on June 30th of an election year. But because the manner in which people consume their media and information is going through a revolution, it’s doubtful these restrictions will make much of a difference.

The very nature of advertising and campaigning has changed. And it keeps changing. Much of what we might think of as advertising won’t even count towards any sort of limit at all.

So why the bill? It’s always hard to know motives. But it certainly appears as if past Liberal wounds from Conservative advertising campaigns was top of mind when they came up with the new $1.5 million-dollar spending limit.

The Conservatives unleashed a torrent of attack ads on Stephen Dion shortly after he was elected. They branded him weak, ineffective and “Not a Leader.” For political watchers it would be hard to forget the cringeworthy exchange where Michael Ignatieff accused the newly-minted Liberal leader of being unable to make priorities that was heavily featured in the ads. Mr. Dion never recovered from that onslaught.

That was near the end of the golden age of television advertising. The ability to reach millions with your message was only held back by depth of your pockets (and they were deep pockets).

It worked for the Conservatives then, but it’s unlikely such an effort would work the same way now. Even if you had millions to spend on TV ads, between PVRs, Netflix and YouTube they wouldn’t be as effective. People are more distracted than ever with viewing habits that span many different media types.

Still, in politics, attack ads work. The Dion case shows that. It’s the format they appear in that’s a moving target. Attack ads may not exist as 30-second missives on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy in 2019, but the types of messages they conveyed aren’t going anywhere.

They’re just going to look different in the next election and appear in different places than “over the airwaves”.

Looking back, a limit might have been truly effective when there was no way to click on an ad and share it with your friends. Voters used to be passive participants in the political process relying on news coverage to find out what was happening in Parliament. They aren’t anymore.

Political parties will continue to get their messages out and they’ll adapt to best communicate with the modern voter.

They’ll spend millions on building up their following on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram in advance of the pre-writ period, so they have a direct ability to reach people without spending additional money.

They’ll produce online videos, photos and infographics that their fans and followers will share (for free) on their own platforms. At the same time they’ll no doubt come up with hard-hitting memes and revealing videos about their opponents (“attack ads”).

They’ll seek out media interviews and opportunities that can be shared by their supporters as proof points of why their candidate is best.

They’ll host elaborate rallies and events that get livestreamed to your phone.

They’ll work with influencers to amplify their message.

They may even create their own internal video service that documents their candidate and positions.

And if they’re the governing party, they’ll likely be making all kinds of splashy announcements with taxpayer dollars.

All of these things have one big thing in common. They’re digital content that’s largely indistinguishable from what we used to think of as advertising.

To quote Stephane Dion from those Tory ads from a decade ago, “this is unfair”.

He might be right. But this is a challenge the entire marketing industry is facing as individuals, companies and brands transition from advertisers to digital communicators who create content for many different purposes.

It’s no longer necessary to go through the filter of the mainstream media or the filter of a paid advertising spaces to reach people directly.

It’s changed campaigning completely. Right now, digital skill and savvy is required more than dollars and cents. And unless the government finds a way to regulate talent, they may find these limits don’t make much of a difference at all.

Oprah should trump Donald for the Nobel Peace Prize

This column originally appeared in The Toronto Star on May 13, 2018

Donald Trump is putting in much effort to appear to play it coy in response to supporters championing to see him win a Nobel Peace Prize during his presidency.

When asked whether he thought he deserved the award, the U.S. president said, “Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it.”

Donald Trump Jr. encouraged the growing chatter while tempering expectations with a recent tweet stating “The globalist elite would never give him that win.”

If selected, Trump would be the fifth American President to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, joining Barack Obama, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Jimmy Carter (who received the honour after leaving office).

The Nobel Peace Prize is an honour that I hope forever eludes Donald Trump.

There are thousands of people and organizations that deserve the award ahead of a man using his position to stoke racially motivated fear and hatred among Americans, while personally promoting violence against women.

To be eligible to nominate someone for the award, an individual must be a member of a national assembly of a sovereign state, or the head of state. Also eligible to nominate are members of the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the Permanent Court of Arbitration of The Hague, Members of Institut de Droit International, university professors and professors emeriti and associate professors of history, social sciences, law, philosophy, theology, and religion; university directors, and directors of peace institutes and foreign policy institutes.

Former Nobel Peace Prize winners are also able to nominate, as well as members of boards of directors of organizations who have received the award. Current and former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee as well as former advisers to the Norwegian Nobel Committee are eligible to nominate.

As a part of the decision-making process, information surrounding nominations is kept secret for 50 years. Nominators who choose to make their own nominations public often inform speculation for potential prizewinners.

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 98 times to 131 laureates, among these are 104 individuals and 27 organizations. Only 16 women have been awarded the prize.

Each year the nominations close on the first of February, with the winner being selected in October and the award presented to the recipient in December.

In the running for the 2018 prize, there are currently 330 candidates, including 114 organizations.

If I were eligible to submit a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, I would nominate Oprah Winfrey.

In part because of the joy it would bring me to see Trump denied the honour to a Black woman who clearly intimidates him, but mostly, because over the course of her astonishing career, she’s earned it.

If selected, she would be the fourth Black woman to receive the honour. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee shared the award in 2011, and Wangari Muta Maathai accepted it in 2004.

While some may dismiss her career in entertainment as trivial, one cannot dismiss the powerful global impact created by the forum she created comprised of 4,561 television episodes for women to share their most intimate stories while promoting growth and healing.

Gloria Steinem noted that Oprah’s “ … daily presence on every continent and in 150 countries for a quarter century […] became a real and rare example of a spontaneous democracy in which people from every walk of life were invited to talk honestly and were listened to with empathy and respect.”

Aside from her impressive personal philanthropy, she’s devoted much of her career to helping people find their own truth and stand in it while seeking to be their best selves. Among her impacts on the world, this, I believe stands as her most powerful.

Well into her retirement, she continues to investigate and share truth, even when it is not what we want to see. Her most recent 60 Minutes special on the legacy of American public lynching, while jarring in it’s visual representation of Black death, was necessary to confronting its impacts.

Oprah may have decided against running for president against Trump, but if their impacts on promoting peace and making the world a better place are compared, her legacy is far more positive and wide reaching than his will ever be.

Lessons for Ontario from the 2011 federal election: The enemy of my enemy is my friend

This column originally appeared in Maclean’s on May 10, 2018

Opinion: With polls suggesting that the Ontario NDP has lapped the Liberals for second, the 2011 federal election offers road maps for all three campaigns

It was May 2, 2011—the last full day of the 2011 federal election campaign. I was on Stephen Harper’s plane, criss-crossing the country—starting the day in PEI, dropping by London, Ont., and then cooling our heels in a fire station in Abbotsford, B.C. for the afternoon before our last big rally.

As the staff and the media hung out that afternoon—sliding down the fire pole more than once—two well-known political reporters pulled me aside. “Are the NDP really gonna win this thing?” they asked.

They were terrified. An Ekos poll had come out earlier that day showing the NDP within three points of Harper. Smiling Jack Layton was on the march. The reporters started talking about moving investments to the U.S., tax hikes, what was gonna happen with the Alberta economy. I laughed and told them not to sweat it; these were not things they had to worry about. The election was done, and we had won, I told them. A few hours later, Canadian voters delivered a Conservative majority.

Fast forward seven years later, and the first day of the 2018 Ontario election is now in the books. Students of political history are already asking the big questions: Is this election going to make Doug Ford into 2011 Harper? Will the NDP achieve what Bob Rae did, circa 1990? Or can 2014’s Kathleen Wynne produce another miracle?

At Enterprise Canada, we’re excited to be working with Maclean’s and Pollara on a project that will hopefully give a behind-the-scenes tour of the Ontario campaign. We’ll all be trying to talk about what is happening, what’s likely to happen, and—after the campaign—try to tell you why it all happened. And the first days have already shown us what history can teach us—and not teach us—about how this campaign will roll out.

Paul Wells’s headline from that first Pollara poll says it all, and it was greeted like a CRA audit by my Liberal friends: “Welcome to third place, Liberals.” Other pollsters have since confirmed that the Liberals are facing their nightmare scenario, and the party faithful are hoping and praying they can turn it around.

In Ontario and in federal politics, we’re not as used to this dynamic as other areas of Canada where the NDP routinely challenges for a shot at governing. In Ontario, it’s been nearly 30 years since they got a sniff of power, or even challenged for second place.

The Pollara numbers tell us a Liberal recovery is the least likely outcome—not impossible, but tough. And the parallels between our current polling moment and the 2011 federal campaign—a conservative with a healthy lead, especially in the areas that matter; a NDP upstart who is telegenic and well-liked who people are seeing again with fresh eyes; a Liberal party struggling to maintain historical levels of support—could make that election serve as a primer for what’s to come.

First, it’s a reminder that there are traditionally relatively few Conservative-NDP vote switchers. They exist mostly in blue-collar towns where manufacturing is dominant, like Oshawa or Welland or in northern Ontario. Conservatives are trained to focus on fighting Liberals, and have a hard time switching gears to fight the NDP. Truthfully, in most campaigns, Conservatives want the NDP to do well. That’s the case in Ontario now—they’re just hoping they don’t do too well.

In the case of a clear NDP challenge, conservatives must change narrative, tactics, proof points and, in some cases, the target demographic for messages. You can’t overreact too much, but the way to parry an NDP attack is slightly different than that for the Liberals.

But Liberals, too, are used to scrapping with Conservatives: It’s hardwired into their muscle memory. They roll out of bed in the morning mumbling about Mike Harris and Stephen Harper before they’ve had their first coffee. They have always contended for power, and rarely have to take the NDP on. We found this out in 2011 when Michael Ignatieff was being lapped by Layton, and yet couldn’t stop yelling about Harper. Problem was, when you’re not the top alternative to the Conservative option, all the strategic voting “vote to stop so-and-so” stuff works against you.

This is the problem the Liberals are running into now. Every attack on Doug Ford moves people over to their chief rival for progressive voters: the NDP.

Indeed, in the 2011 federal campaign, the NDP was clearly in second place. Liberals were trailing badly. As evidenced from my story above, some journalists and other Canadians were starting to get their affairs in order. What happened?

Well, the NDP was way ahead in Quebec, which was a surprise to everyone—not least the NDP. Meanwhile, the Liberals were still the second-place party in Ontario—and Ontario is (usually) where federal governments are won and lost. Then the NDP started telling journalists that they were going to win seats in Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, and expand their claim in B.C. Spoiler alert: they didn’t.

We started firing away in B.C. with ads that reminded swing voters that Layton had only recently proposed a coalition with the separatists. That worked. And in Ontario, “smiling Jack” never really caught on. We continued to focus our Ontario ads on Michael Ignatieff, to the consternation of some who thought our real opponent was the NDP. The Liberals cratered and lost 27 seats, 22 of which went to the Conservatives. Despite running the most successful federal campaign in its history, the NDP only took advantage of the Liberals’ collapse to the tune of five seats.

This is different federally than in Ontario, obviously. In 2011, we could run different campaigns against the NDP in B.C. and the Liberals in Ontario because of the varying media markets. But this will happen in Ontario too, through radio ads and the precision of digital advertising. For the NDP, this will mean turning the guns on Conservatives in the north and ignoring the Liberals. For the Conservatives, this will force them to make all sorts of calculations about the NDP in the 905 region around Toronto if they continue to steal votes from the Liberals. And for the Liberals, this means figuring out when and where to switch gears, save the furniture and stop an NDP wave at their expense. They’ve already done something they haven’t done in a generation: they attacked the NDP this morning for the first time in this campaign because they lost the support of the Elementary Teachers Federation. Expect it to ramp up.

Two principles at are play here: first, don’t rely on history and muscle memory to figure out who your enemy is. And second, once you figure out who your current enemy really is, you’ve gotta figure out the story that will work. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, after all—but in this type of campaign, it’s not always clear who you should be shooting at.

Feel the thrill of being involved in a campaign

This column originally appeared in The Toronto Star on May 6, 2018

I imagined the struggle placed on new candidates now restricted from being in the room at their own fundraisers to thank donors. Donor appreciation is a large part of fundraising. When an individual decides to direct their generosity to supporting your political vision and your ability to execute it, it only feels natural to have an opportunity to look them in the eye and thank them.

The legislation also drastically reduced (by nearly 90 per cent) the total amount of money individuals could donate to campaigns. It further banned corporations, unions and other groups not affiliated with political parties from making political donations.

It was a game changer.

Campaigns are in need of volunteers and individual donations now more than ever.

This isn’t an election to sit out, press mute, or wait for an outcome. This is an election to be engaged, informed and critical of the vision being offered by each party, and contribute in whatever way you are able.

Begin by making sure you are registered to vote. Elections Ontario launched a new online tool last year to make this more convenient. It only takes a few minutes.

Next, get to know the candidates. It has brought me immeasurable joy to see a new generation of women self-select and run successful nominations across the province.

It’s difficult for so many of us leading just-in-time lives, but I hope you’ll find a couple of hours to find a candidate you support, walk into their campaign office and ask how you can help.

Let the bug catch you. Step into the excitement of the movement. Offer your time and energy. Canvass, deliver literature, make phone calls, fundraise, or help organize an event.

If party politics aren’t for you, consider contributing to an issue-based campaign.

#OntarioThrive was launched this week by a powerful coalition of non-partisan organizations aiming to ensure measurable commitments on gender equity are at the forefront of the discourse throughout the campaign.

They are organizing events and asking candidates for their positions on a range of issues, including health and education, campus sexual violence, gender-based violence, child care, housing, minimum wage, ending violence against Indigenous girls and women, and anti-racism.

The best gift that comes with volunteering on campaigns, no matter the outcome, is the family built along the way. Lifelong true friends connected by a passion to make impossible things happen, forever tied as you grow one another into your best selves, better prepared to impact the world around you.

Each time I get involved in a campaign it is with a sense of responsibility to my own ancestors who were not always afforded the ability to contribute to shaping political outcomes. Black women who had to fight for the right to vote, participate in political discourse, and run for office.

I contribute because I believe it is my job to help shape the world I hope to bring children into. I look forward to one day teaching my daughter, by example, the same appreciation for this civic duty.

There was a portion of Barack Obama’s farewell address in Chicago on Jan. 10, 2017 that particularly moved me: “Because of all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen. So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. […] Show up, Dive in. Stay at it.”

I’m committed to volunteering as much of my time as possible to supporting #womenforwynne. I look forward to the new friendships forged along the campaign trail in the coming weeks.

The title track on my campaign playlist is “Without a Fight” by Janelle Monae.

I want to look back at this election after June 7 and know I did everything I could do. Whatever that is for you, I hope you will be moved to do it too.

Mediocre men walk their way through political campaigns. It is time to end the double standard facing women on the campaign trail

This column originally appeared in The Toronto Star on April 22, 2018

When Donald Trump entered the political arena, he broke all the rules. And his election in 2016 exemplified a frustrating double standard between men and women on the campaign trail.

While men are encouraged to innovate and break the political mould, women are expected to learn the rules as they exist and follow them closely or face heightened scrutiny.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has a difficult road ahead. Canada has never re-elected a woman as premier in any province. She is tasked with defending her record while presenting a detailed plan for her proposed way forward.

Her record and resume are impressive. She’s spent decades in the political trenches, in work specifically aimed at improving the lives of the most vulnerable in society. She’s been clear about her values and has been a compassionate and thoughtful leader for the province.

Doug Ford bested three women opponents last month in a speedy leadership campaign, convincing Ontario PC party membership that he was the best candidate to lead their party through the election. Ontarians will decide over the next six weeks if he is qualified to steer the ship of the entire province.

As the campaign kicks off, Ford has confidently thrown conventional provincial campaign wisdom out the window.

While local media outlets across the province struggle with cut, his campaign has made a calculated decision not to have a media bus follow the leader for the duration of the campaign.

Rather than presenting a fully costed platform to communicate his plans to voters, Ford continues to present oversimplified solutions to complex policy issues on the go.

Ford seems to believe he can wing this campaign. Voters deserve better.

Voters deserve independent media access to party leaders. Voters deserve to know how a particular campaign promise is going to be achieved. Voters deserve to see a document that outlines a vision for the province and a blueprint to achieve success.

A platform is the medium through which a party’s vision for the province, and plan to achieve it, are communicated. Parties spend months connecting with local communities to prioritize issues and policy experts to identify innovative solutions in the development of these documents.

Premier Wynne quoted Michelle Obama this week in a description of what we can expect from her over the course of the campaign:

“Michelle Obama, whom I admire greatly, recommended when they go low, we should go high. I loved that idea when she said it until we ended up with Donald Trump in the White House. So, I’m sorry, but not again. Not here, not in Ontario. I’m not going to go high. I’m not going to go low. I’m going to call that bullying behaviour out for what it is.”

Obama delivered those inspiring words at the 2016 Democratic Convention in support of Hillary Clinton. In the same speech she spoke candidly about responsible leadership.

“I want someone who understands that the issues the president faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters,” she said. “When you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military at your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have a thin skin or a tendency to lash out.”

If the tables were turned in that election — and in this one — a woman candidate exhibiting this type of behaviour would have been labelled an emotional, political novice who is unfit to lead.

Why is it that men are so freely awarded the benefit of the doubt while women are constantly challenged to prove themselves in politics?

I hope that in the coming weeks, Ontario will defy the odds.

I hope that the fierce women running and bringing their talents to provincial campaigns will courageously change the political game.

During her performance at Coachella last weekend, Beyoncé took a moment to address the women in the crowd, “Ladies — Are we smart? Are we strong? Have we had enough?”

I’ve had enough of mediocre men talking their way through political campaigns as brilliant and well-studied women are overlooked while they put in the hard work.